Greetings everybody! Nanka kawatta koto atta!!!
Riddle me this: what is over 5 inches long, dipped in various fluids and comes packaged in sleek plastic coating? Yes, that's right! Pocky! Japan's most popularly enjoyed snack has been crunching in people's mouths since 1966. Commonly known in strawberry or chocolate flavors, Pocky has challenged its fans to try all the unique flavors including kiwi, cereal, milk, powder, men, robot, kurago, yogurt, G, and the ever mysterious "2001". Overall, there are over 150 flavors of Pocky, each unique in their own little way!
But what is Pocky and how and where is it made? Pocky was created from a then-popular fad in the 60's from Japanese and Korean teens who dipped breadsticks found in bars into melted buttermilk. The fad eventually caught the attention of Japanese maker Ezaki Gilco, who created the then-controversial Pocky as a hip and rebellous item enjoyed by 60's teens. Imagine, Japanese teenagers sneaking in boxes of Pocky, feeling naughty as they snack into it in the middle of the night when no one was looking!
In my birth hometown of Osaka, Japan, I grew up not too far from the Ezaki Glico factory which manufactures Pocky. There, fans can watch the famous breadsticks being dipped into a colorful barrage of assorted flavors, mesmerized by the clockwork efficiency of machines. But you don't need to travel all the way to Osaka to watch this spectacle, Ezaki Glico has identical Pocky factories stationed all over the world! Ezaki Glico makes Pocky in Thailand, Scotland, China, the UK, Brazil, France and even here in Irvine, California! That's right, the Pocky that's purchased here is actually made near my adopted hometown of Los Angeles!
Because of its cultural significance, Pocky plays a large part not only in Japan, but internationally where Pocky is just as popular:
- Pocky is the official snack of the Hanshin Tigers baseball team. Just like American baseball teams have their traditions, players and fans from the Hanshin Tigers have Pocky as a long storied part of their mythos!
- British author Roald Dhal visited the UK Ezaki Glico factory while finding ideas for his novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. So amazed was he at the theme-parked atmosphere of the Japanese candy manufacturer that major parts of the story, including the Oompa Lumpas, were based on his experience at Ezaki Glico! While this slightly pre-dates the official launch of Pocky, it is worth noting that prior products that Ezaki Glico was making is similar to the concept of Pocky!
- Pocky is integrated throughout Japanese anime. For example, the famous epsiode of Aa! Megamisama TV shares an intimate scene where a girl and a boy start out eating opposite ends of a Pocky stick and end up with a kiss (much like the spaghetti scene from Lady and the Tramp). In the famous Miyazaki animation, Spirited Away, the main character Chihiro and her family drive to their new house with an empty box of Pocky bouncing around in the back seat. Lola, a character from the anime Venus Versus Virus, is well-known to have a Pocky stick in her lips throughout the show (much like Chow Yun Fat sporting a toothpick in Hard-boiled)
- Pocky Day, November 11th, is the Japanese equivilant to Festivus. Starting as a joke, Pocky Day has gained ground among he Japanese youth as a made-up, fun holiday where everyone celebrates and believes in all things Pocky! It's certainly one of my favorite holidays! Haha!
It's often said that the greatest form of flattery is imitation. Throughout the years, Pocky has had its share of pretenders. Japanese rival Meiji Seika came out with its answer to Ezaki Glico with the boring looking Yan Yan. Although Yan Yan allows seperation of the breadsticks from the dip, it lacks the personality and packaging of Pocky!
My friend Adam, an avid Pocky consumer from New York, explains:
"I am actually surprised that Yan Yan is made in Japan. It is very poorly boxed, like it came from a third-world country, and even though it gives you more dip, it tastes dull and boring. That, and why did they think people want to do all the dipping themselves? Pocky is very generously dipped by their factories. I can just open the package and start eating with minimal work. Why should a snack make me work so hard? It's also the same reason I don't like Lunchables."
And there you have it! Another Pocky fan who sticks up for the original!
More imitators include the Korean-manufactured Pepero, the Chinese-made Kirin Namacha (targeted for older adults), Sanrio's Hello Kitty strawberry sticks, a nameless Mexican-version of Pocky made in Mexico, the Arabic snack Caramella, Jack and Jill's Chocolate Sticks from the Philippines and finally Stix by the Australian company Pandaroo. You can find most of these imitators at most Asian supermarkets near you, particularly if the supermarket is seedy!
But who wants imitators when they can have the real thing? Does Pocky have to be mail-ordered from the Glico factories or purchased through ebay? Don't be silly! Pocky is everywhere and is found in most major supermarkets in the U.S. such as Texas' H-E-B Pantry, Randall's, Albertson's, Safeway and Wal-Mart (yes, I said Wal-Mart)! Of course, almost all Asian supermarkets carry Pocky as well. In Europe, the brand is renamed as Mikado. In Malaysia, it is renamed as Rocky.
Please note that most places which sell Pocky in the U.S. usually carry only the two most common flavors of chocolate and strawberry. If you're interested in the more unique flavors of Pocky, try specialty Japanese stores or consult your local otaku geek! Haha! (Just kidding!)
[* Editor's Note: Check out a store in Houston called "Fit" in Chinatown which sells numerous variations of Pocky]
Pocky is one of the most famous imports from Japan. It is so popular in other Asian countries that many Asians simply consider it as an Asian snack without much distinctiveness toward its Japanese roots. Pocky is derived from the Japanese term pokki, which simple means the sound it makes when someone bites into it (much like Nestle's Crunch). This is the perfect name for it because it's the everlasting image of the snack! So next time, when someone asks you the riddle of what is 5 inches long, dipped in various fluids and comes packaged in sleek plastic, tell them to get their own Pocky! Haha!
Okay everyone, come back in 15 days as we talk about more fun topics about Asian Desserts! Mata oai shimasho!